Vanarama National League South
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2022/23 will go down in history as the season Weston regained their National League South status. It proved to be The Seagulls’ first title win in 31 years and the first promotion in 20 years, as Scott Bartlett’s side won the league with a game to spare, playing some scintillating football along the way.

After the agony of elimination in the play-offs at the end of the 2021/22 season, the Weston players came back for the following campaign in even more determined mood to go one better. James Dodd signed permanently after his hugely impressive loan spell in the previous campaign, and the signing of the experienced Reuben Reid was a real coup, and demonstrated the club’s intentions to keep improving. Both players would go on to have a significant impact as they helped the club win the promotion it so desperately craved.

The new 2022-23 season started with a real bang. Following the draw at Bracknell on the opening day, Weston went on a super run and went undefeated for the next nine league games, winning eight of them and scoring three or more goals in seven of those games. The main highlights of that time were Keiran Thomas’ stunning strike in the 3-0 home victory at home to Gosport Borough, the 7-0 success against Harrow Borough, and the pleasing 3-0 win at Dorchester Town, which will be mainly remembered for Scott Laird’s wonderful goal where he chipped the keeper from distance. Not only have the quantity of goals been outstanding in this remarkable season, but also the quality as well. Lloyd Humphries’ stunning strike at home to North Leigh is another fine example, this goal earning him ‘Goal of the Season’ to go with his array of other awards in a glittering season for the gifted Welshman.

Not only was this a start of a fruitful league campaign, but Weston were also doing well in the FA Cup. After a 4-2 win at Basingstoke Town in the First Qualifying Round, Shepton Mallet were then beaten at the Optima in a Somerset derby in the next round. Helston Athletic then visited BS24 in the Third Qualifying Round as a hat-trick from Reid saw the Cornish side on the wrong end of a 7-2 defeat. After navigating those early rounds of the cup, The Seagulls were then handed a plum tie at Barnet in the Fourth Qualifying Round. The Seagull Army were out in force for this one and the Weston fans sang throughout. Despite enjoying quite a lot of possession, Weston were unfortunate to bow out to a side that finished in the National League play-offs.

The unbeaten run eventually came to an end following the home defeat to Chesham United. But Weston have proved to also be a resilient side and recovered well to beat Hanwell Town the following Saturday. This victory came courtesy of Jordan Bastin’s brace and a composed finish from the exciting Jay Murray, and it was the start of another unbeaten run as they won five on the bounce before another rare defeat, only the second of the season, at Beaconsfield Town.

However, The Seagulls showed their ‘bouncebackability’ by claiming maximum points in their next four league games. Dayle Grubb netted a fantastic hat-trick against Hartley Wintney in early December, before Bastin’s late winner against Plymouth Parkway in the first 1000+ attendance at the Optima this season in the New Year proved to be another highlight. Another magnificent occasion saw another five goals at Harrow Borough in another stand-out performance, which was also memorable due to Noah Coppin’s first goal for the club, and Luke Purnell’s fantastic penalty save. This proved to be one of many highlights for our loyal and talented goalkeeper this season, as he went on to claim eleven clean-sheets in the 24 league games he played. Prior to the game at Harrow Borough, the excellent Max Harris had been recalled by Cheltenham Town and much credit goes to him, also, for a wonderful year or so on loan at Weston.

At the start of February, Purnell kept three clean sheets in a row. A fantastic save to claim a point at Swindon Supermarine was followed by another shut-out in the team’s excellent 4-0 win at Gosport Borough, before an extremely hard-fought 1-0 home win over Hayes & Yeading United. Club stalwart Sam Avery nodded in a late winner in the Hayes game, not the last time the former Gloucester City man would do that at the Optima this season. The midweek win at Gosport was also a welcome boost for the side, with the main highlight of that evening being Grubb’s exquisite curling finish, a trademark goal for the Weston legend.

Another fabulous win on the road came at Hendon in a terrific game in London. After an early equaliser from the talented Elis Watts, Dodd popped up with a brace to secure an absolutely vital 3-2 win on the road, with the second of his two goals coming in the 88th minute. The former Exeter City midfielder enjoyed another stellar season with The Seagulls and chipped in with an impressive tally of six goals. Both him and Jacob Jagger Cane were immense together in the midfield engine room all season, putting in tireless displays week after week, as they both started every league game together during an incredible season.

Earlier that month, Bartlett had bolstered his striking options with the acquisition of Tiverton Town forward Olly Mehew, who had been a long-term target for the Weston boss. Mehew opened his Weston account with a brace of his own against Dorchester Town at the Optima in the last game of February.

March also started in the right manner after a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Hanwell Town, as the nerveless Laird slotted home a perfect penalty, before a week later The Seagulls produced another single goal win at Winchester City, as Grubb struck his 20th goal of the season with another unerring finish from long-range. Dodd and Humphries rescued points in 1-1 draws against Met Police and Chesham respectively as Weston went on to lose only five games during the whole season, a phenomenal achievement.

Weston finished the season in April with a real flourish as Winchester were beaten again under the Optima lights. The Easter Bank Holiday was also a productive one as a further four points were collected. The 0-0 draw at Hartley Wintney felt like a frustrating result on the day, but The Seagulls remained in pole position going into the last four games as points already in the bag and a superior goal difference would always stand the side in good stead.

The Easter Monday fixture, therefore, couldn’t have come quicker enough. Bastin, enjoying an excellent season in front of goal, opened the scoring against his former side just before half-time, before Marlon Jackson, having another hugely productive campaign at the Optima, doubled the lead after the break. Those goals were enough to seal a huge three points ahead of the visit of Merthyr Town. That man Avery nodded in from close-range late on for yet another goal that brought the house down.

On the following Monday, without a ball even being kicked by a Weston player, The Seagulls were given a huge boost in their pursuit of the title. Second-placed Bracknell Town lost at Truro City, meaning that three points the following evening would hand Weston the title. The Seagulls started with a high intensity in front of the bumper 1,490 crowd and led within the first minute as Jackson scored his first of the evening. With the crowd already on a crest of a wave, Jason Pope doubled Weston’s lead just minutes later. That goal for Pope was richly deserved for the elegant defender, who has also excelled in the Weston backline once again this season. Hendon pulled a goal back but Jackson scored his second of the night almost immediately, before he grabbed his third of the evening and his 19th of the season. At full-time, the crowd spilled onto the pitch in a good-natured pitch invasion before the Weston players received their trophy and medals and popped the champagne to celebrate a magnificent season for all connected with the club. The celebrations that followed will live long in the memory as Weston deservedly reclaim their place in Step 2.

The final game of a tremendous season was played at Salisbury, as the large contingent of Weston fans in attendance were still in party mood. A great occasion was made even more pleasing by the first-team debut of Academy product Dan Maspero, further demonstrating the success of the club at all levels this season.

Many congratulations to all involved, a wonderful achievement in a campaign that will always be looked back upon with great fondness.

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